Brachiosaur sketch

This is the first of a series working up to a complete illustration. This is me, coming to understand the basics of brachiosaur physiology.

These days, anyone who’s excited about dinosaurs finds themselves talking and speculating about feathers on therapods. But there are other exciting innovations, too!

First, as in therapods, there’s the evolution of our conception of the stance of the creatures. The idea that somehow dinosaurs deserved to become extinct because they were “obsolete” is a narrative suspiciously beneficial to the early industrialists who were often funding research. In therapods, we’ve seen them over time get up on their toes, raise their tail, and get sleeker until they’re less like plodding monsters and more like colossal birds. There’s been a similar evolution in our concept of sauropods, going from this clumsy, noodly dude:

If that’s the shape its body had, why would it have needed bones at all?

… to this upright and, dare I say, lively interpretation:

Note the legs holding it upright and tail held out to balance. The long, upright neck still seems mad cray to me, though.

So I’m attempting to come to some sort of understanding of shape of this body. I’m still not completely happy with what’s going on, particularly with the shoulders, and I’d love a top-down view because I don’t fully understand how the enormous, palm tree-digesting gut fit with the pelvis.

OK, you got me. This is a Giraffatitan. It was considered a brachiosaur for a long time, but no longer is. That’s why I do these: to learn.

You’ll note I’m pushing two speculations, both well-supported, at least as far as speculation goes. One is that the spinal column is ridged with spines, at least among diplodocid dinosaurs. By itself, this is a huge relief for artists, who otherwise are faced with an animal that’s pretty much “animal shaped” in the middle, with a long tail, long neck, and tiny little head. I’m imagining them making klonking, rattling sounds, to warn therapods to stay away, just like the bold colors do. There’s no reason to believe they’re poisonous; that’s usually little things that are easily eaten. But it’s a warning that therapods will get a stomping, maybe even an accidental stomping.

Another speculation is that the brachiosaur, which has this weird, concave skull shape, actually had a big, honking nose. We’re pretty sure that these were herd animals and are pretty sure that they didn’t have larynxes, so I’m imagining them calling to each other with hoots that sound like enormous birds.There’s a lot still to learn about this critter before I do the final illustration. It turns out, for instance, that the archetypal brachiosaur from many of my childhood dinosaur books was a nearby clade called a “Giraffatitan”, which is neat to learn, but means that I’ve gotta find a slightly different model, particularly for that weird head with its nostrils apparently on top.

You know how you learn to sketch out these solid prisms to abstract an animal shape? Well, sometimes you gotta not do that so much.

If you’re like me, you don’t want to go extinct. The Fifth World is about the people who didn’t!

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